SYRACUSE — A significant Lilly Endowment grant awarded to the Wawasee Community School Corporation in the summer will allow more resources to be focused on increasing student attendance, decreasing student class failures and decreasing the number of dropouts.
In June, the school corporation received a letter saying it had been approved for a Lilly Endowment counseling grant in the amount of $302,700. Dr. Sandra Weaver, director of special services for the school corporation, noted the first attempt seeking the grant was denied, but more grants were issued and Wawasee was approved upon the second request.
Receiving the grant has enabled WCSC to hire a “student success advocate,” Sarah LeCount, who began in that position Friday, Sept. 28. Weaver emphasized LeCount will not be a guidance counselor or mental health therapist, but will focus on ways to bring kids back to school who had been either attending an alternative school or had dropped out. It is hoped eventually the high school graduation rate will be improved too.
An early warning, intervention and monitoring system will also be put in place. “We will look at grades, attendance rates and the number of class failures,” Weaver said, in order to identify the students needing assistance. She noted the goal is “to get kids back on track” in grades K-12, emphasizing the grant funds can be used to help kids in all grades, not just high school.
Another component of the grant will allow parents of at-risk students to have two free counseling sessions with the Bowen Center. Through the student assistance program, students had already been receiving free counseling sessions.
Incentives may be needed to get some parents to agree to come to counseling sessions, Weaver admitted. Gas or business gift cards have been considered as possible incentives, she noted.
Teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other school corporation employees will be trained on how to respond to students who come from “homes with trauma situations,” Weaver said. More specifically, those homes where there are drug or alcohol addictions or other issues.
A team of eight people will attend a training session in January and then later train the other school corporation employees.
One overall goal with using the Lilly grant funds is “building relationships with kids,” Weaver said, noting, for example, trying to make a positive impact on kids who have suicidal thoughts. An increasing number of kids are growing up in negative family environments previous generations did not experience to such a degree.
“We (administrators and staff) are all here to support kids,” Weaver said.
She said another aspect of the grant is it hopefully will allow school guidance counselors to focus more on other student needs.
The grant is for four years and during that time the Wawasee corporation will also add funds. “We want the program to be sustainable after the four years,” she noted.
An external evaluator separate from Lilly will monitor progress of how grant funds are being used. An advisory committee will also meet quarterly to track progress.